Interaction 13: Food

The first four Interaction conferences were real treats for foodies. Every reception/party had enough food to make a meal of. The selected caterers provided a wide variety of cuisines plated with artistic flair. I remember a dessert table in 2009 that ran the width of the hotel ballroom. I remember shucking oysters in 2010. I remember eating an orchid in 2008, and there was the street vendor outside the Boulder Theater in 2011.

The conference food in Dublin was mostly forgettable. The food served during the closing party at the Guinness Storehouse was fantastic, but there wasn’t a lot of it. Interaction 13 was worse. The happy hours had nothing to munch on, and the appetizers at the parties, while tasty, were not meal-worthy.

The lunches were beyond lame. Each day gave us progressively less meat. In fact, the only meat on day three was some crumbled bacon you could put on your salad. The main course was macaroni and cheese. They made a big deal of the fact that we were not to visit the vegetarian table if we did not request it when we registered, and I really questioned whether I was at the right table. The only explanation I can think of is that a vegetarian planned the menu.

The one positive was that when I checked in at the Radisson, I was issued coupons for free breakfasts (tip included) every morning for myself and my wife. That was a great start to the morning, and it was the most protein I got a couple days.

I guess we were spoiled the first few years while the conference was small. Now it has grown to the point that a conference center is required to fit everyone, and conference centers require that you use their own catering. Here’s hoping that Amsterdam has more to offer.

In Comparison: Loyalty Programs

Panera and Qdoba are my favorite fast-food franchises. I take advantage of each of their customer loyalty programs. Qdoba’s is very straight forward. I hand them my card at checkout and receive points for every purchase. Once I accumulate enough points, I get a free entrée. Panera’s is a little more nebulous. I hand them my card at checkout, so I assume they are tracking my purchases, but I don’t know exactly how they determine rewards. Seemingly at random, they add “surprises” to my card, which they tell me about when I check out. Sometimes it’s a free pastry, sometimes it’s a free beverage, and once or twice, I’ve been granted a free sandwich.

My birthday is coming up, and both restaurants acknowledged it with free food. Panera put a free pastry on my card, which seems the obvious thing to do. I got a Cobblestone, which I learned is 25% of my recommended daily caloric intake. It was delicious. Qdoba, however, did something rather odd. Instead of using the card, they sent me email with a link to a webpage containing a “buy one entrée, get one free” coupon. The page even limits the number of times you can view it to three in an attempt to avoid cheating. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t take advantage of the card system that’s already in place.

Interaction 12: Dublin Dining

Interaction 12 was the fifth in a string of outstanding conferences put on by IxDA. I’ll be making a number of posts about the conference in the coming days, but to start off, I’d like to share some observations I made of Dublin, this year’s hosting city.

I’ve been to Scotland a couple times several years ago, but this was my first visit to Ireland. I remember well that in Scotland, when you ordered a Coke in a restaurant, it was always served with a slice of lemon at room temperature—no ice. In Ireland, Coke is also served with lemon, but it is thankfully chilled, and I was either asked if I wanted ice or was given it without asking. I also found it interesting that Coke was most often provided in tiny (8 oz?), glass bottles.

I enjoyed eating fish and chips in the Brazen Head, Dublin’s oldest pub. However, I prefer to eat both battered fish and fries with ketchup, which was nowhere to be found.

All meat was locally sourced (from Ireland), and many of the restaurants specifically stated that all meat was “traceable” in their menus. That said, I found their sausage to be nearly inedible. This confirms my experience in Scotland and on British Airways: they don’t know how to make good sausage in the UK. It’s pasty.

During my first meal, a wonderful seafood feast at Matt the Thresher, I looked up tipping expectations online. I learned that tips are expected in restaurants, but would be laughed at in pubs. I learned by experience, however, that you can’t add a tip when you sign your credit card receipt, which is standard practice in the U.S. Every establishment I visited used relatively primitive, portable card swipes, rather than having them built into registers.

It seemed most restaurants close between lunch and dinner. Unfortunately, it was impossible for visitors to know this, as hours of operation were rarely posted in shop windows. Almost nothing was open Sunday morning when I was trying to get breakfast before heading to the airport. The one restaurant that would serve me wasn’t prepared to accept my payment by credit card.

Accessible Menu

I’m not a fan of Eat’nPark. They serve a decent breakfast, but overall, I find their food to be blasé. There is very little on their menu that I would want to order for dinner. If I’m going to spend money to eat out, I’d prefer to spend it somewhere that I look forward to eating. Of course, not everyone shares this opinion, so that is where I found myself having dinner last night. To wit, I ordered a buffalo chicken salad. It was made with iceberg lettuce and served in a bowl that was hot to the touch, so all the lettuce in the bottom of the bowl was wilted.

As it happened, a couple of the people I was dining with are on a low-carb diet, while a couple others are vegetarian. I’ve oft seen menus that mark healthy dishes with an icon, but I was impressed with Eat’nPark’s menu. The entire back page was a guide for those with all manner of dietary restrictions. Even on their website, you can see that they have “Low Carb,” “Celiac,” “Eat‘n Smart,” and “Smaller Portions” as major categories. The printed menu included a chart with detailed nutritional information for each entrée, such as calories, cholesterol, and fat. The website incorporates a meal calculator that allows you to select multiple menu items, presenting statistics for individual items and the entire meal.

While this may be catering to senior citizens, who seem to make up a large percentage of their customers, I think it is a good idea for any restaurant and any age or other clientele metric. As a populace, we are only becoming more informed about our health and the effects of our eating habits. We are likely to see more “special” dietary requirements, not to mention food allergies and intolerances. Such a supplement could improve customer experience and increase brand loyalty, not to mention actually helping people stay, or even become, healthy.

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I occasionally take frozen dinners to work for lunch. I appreciate that the Hungryman meals include a Duncan Hines brownie. It comes out of the microwave “freshly baked”, if you can call it that. The one problem is that the brownie takes half as long to cook as does the rest of the meal. The instructions have you take it out, then return the tray for several more minutes. This requires the soiling of a paper plate. And while it’s supposed to be my dessert, I end up eating it while I await the rest of my meal.